The Friedrich Naumann Foundation at the ALDE Party Congress in Athens
“Δημοκρατία” Democracy – it is not without reason that ancient Athens is regarded as the cradle of popular rule. As the first great city with claims to power over the Mediterranean and one of the first great European metropolises, Athens was also the gathering place of the world’s first parliament and the Athenian People’s Assembly, which took place several times a month.
More than 2500 years later, around a thousand European liberals used Attic democracy as the inspiration for the first liberal family reunion, after the successful European elections in May 2019, at the 40th ALDE Party Congress. The Liberals’ figures speak for themselves: more than 65 member parties and 81 MEPs, five European prime ministers, four EU Commissioner candidates and a future EU Council president. Last year’s motto, “Fight like a liberal”, was followed this year by the self-confident announcement “Mission is possible – the Renaissance of European Liberalism”. At the opening ceremony, the prominent speakers, from ALDE President Hans van Baalen over Commissioner-designate Margrethe Vestager to Luxembourg’s Prime Minister Xavier Bettel, agreed that there were still many challenges to be overcome in the quest for a modern, open and rule-based society in Europe that would unite and that the now third-strongest force in the European Parliament would have to tackle.
Like the Olympic athletes of antiquity, Europe’s liberals are not resting on their laurels, but are already training for the next disciplines. These include in particular the upcoming elections in Spain, Great Britain and Romania this year.
The Friedrich Naumann Foundation’s commitment to freedom at this year’s party conference was a best of many activities in various regions: In addition to the presence of many foundation colleagues and delegations on site, the official programme offered at least one foundation fringe event every day with well-known participants.
The highlight was undoubtedly the panel discussion on future and innovation topics of the 21st century with the designated Vice-Digital Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, Nicola Beer, Member of the European Parliament and Vice-President of the European Parliament as well as Mario Hrebak, Mayor of the Croatian city of Bjelovar. Using a metaphor, Margrethe Vestager humorously showed the audience how liberals could meet the digital challenges of the future. According to Vestager, many delegates certainly have a dog. One would let this dog off the leash at a time when it was sufficiently domesticated. The same applies to artificial intelligence, Vestager continued, accompanied by a laugh of agreement. Innovations such as automated driving or profiling offer numerous opportunities, but undesirable side effects must be anticipated by national and European legislators and, if possible, eliminated before this innovation dog is completely released. Vestager called on European liberals to be courageous and not to shy away from risks.
Nicola Beer, member of the European Parliament’s Committee on Industry, Research and Energy (ITRE), called for the barriers for small and medium-sized enterprises to be further reduced so as not to hamper the exchange of innovation and creativity, especially for smaller players in the European internal market. As a local representative, Mario Hrebak explained how his city, thanks to an App, ensures financial transparency of public spending for all citizens, which in turn promotes confidence in elected representatives and interest in politics.
In the panel discussion on “Discussing our Future – Young Liberals discussing Pan-European challenges” offered jointly with the European Liberal Youth (LYMEC), panelists from Bulgaria, Hungary, Spain and Greece discussed future topics around participation, youth unemployment, education as well as environment and development. LYMEC President and Member of the European Parliament Svenja Hahn encouraged young liberals to view their age less as a shortcoming than as an advantage and to play an active role in shaping politics. The Friedrich Naumann Foundation has been active in Greece since 2013 and works there in close cooperation with Young Liberals Greece, particularly on youth issues.
The European Women’s Academy (EWA), a joint lighthouse project of the European Liberal Forum, ALDE Party the and the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom, was also a guest at the party conference. With great public interest, five liberal party leaders, including four women, discussed best practices and innovations concerning campaigns, candidates and liberal agendas at all political levels with EWA West Director Ian Marquardt.
Photo Gallery: 40th ALDE Party Congress in Athens
Looking ahead to 2020, the Foundation for Freedom, together with Liberal International on the fringes of the ALDE Congress, has launched the development of an online campaign that will send a strong signal against disinformation and for more media literacy. In the workshop, participants from eleven different countries developed initial ideas for the online campaign to be launched in 2020.
The party congress ended with the regular election of parts of the ALDE party executive board, at which Hans van Baalen (VVD, Netherlands) was re-elected president. The nine elected vice-presidents include Daniel Berg (Momentum, Hungary), Baroness Sal Brinton (Liberal Democrats, United Kingdom), Timmy Dooley (Fianna Fail, Ireland), Ilhan Kyuchyuk (MRF, Bulgaria), Alexander Graf Lambsdorff MdB (FDP, Germany), Annelou van Egmond (D66, Netherlands) as well as the vice-presidents Henrik Bach Mortensen (Venstre, Denmark), Dita Charanzová MEP (ANO, Czech Republic), Luis Garicano (Ciudadanos, Spain) and the treasurer Gašper Koprivsek (SMC, Slovenia) who were elected last year.
One cannot help but notice certain parallels with Socrates: As a trained stonemason and one of the first European intellectuals of his time, he wanted to encourage his fellow citizens to think and act critically. Accompanied by the sight of the Acropolis towering majestically above the city, which Theodor Heuss once described as one of the three founding hills of Europe, Europe’s liberals in Athens have now set a new course in their cooperation for Europe’s democracy.
European Affairs Manager